The landmark business book In Search of Excellence, written by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., was first published in 1982. It sold more than 3,000,000 copies worldwide and became something of a bible for 20th century business people. Much of its content is relevant today and even applies to us in information systems and technology. Two of its concepts are especially relevant for both IT management and those of us on the front lines. They are the idea of staying close to the customer, learning from the people we serve, and taking a hands-on, value-driven approach to our work. In fact, one of my favorite concepts from In Search of Excellence is the idea of MBWA or Management by Wandering Around.
Get Out from In Front of Your Monitor
As people who work in information systems and technology, it’s easy for us to get stuck in front of a monitor, checking performance metrics, researching new technologies, and dealing with the typical torrent of email that floods our inboxes. The problem is that’s not where our users and customers are. Our users and customers are hard at work in their offices and cubicles, dealing with their own sets of issues and problems. Whether we’re in IT management or on the front lines, when we get out from our desks and interact with our customers and end users, we learn things we would otherwise miss. For example, some people simply won’t complain about an issue they’re having until it gets so bad they can’t stand it anymore. Meanwhile, their frustration level builds, their productivity may go down, and with it, our reputation. That may not seem fair to you, and frankly, it isn’t fair, but it’s a reality and I’ll bet you may have encountered a similar situation in your workplace. By getting out from our desks and walking around where are users and customers do their work, we have an opportunity to ask open-ended questions such as “How’s that laptop working for you?” or “Is everything okay with your email?” or similar questions. This delivers at least two benefits. First, you’ll get actionable information that might not show up in trouble tickets or surveys. Second, you’ll create an impression that you and your department really do care about the users and customers. Both benefits will help avoid “death by water cooler” where careers are torpedoed by gossip and water cooler conversations.
Be Intentional in Your Wanders
Although the phrase “Management by Wandering Around” is humorous and catchy, I don’t actually recommend just wandering around. Be intentional about your wandering. Make sure to try to visit as many different people and groups of people as possible. Make a special point of visiting people and departments where there’ve been problems in the past. Set a plan to do your IT management by wandering around at regular intervals, based on your work load and the number of people you support. Even in the enterprise, where you might be responsible for supporting hundreds or even thousands of users, you can still do your MBWA with a sample of the people you support.
IT Management is About Meeting Business Needs
When we do our IT management by wandering around, we do indeed stay close to the customer, we learn of both their triumphs and struggles, and by taking such a hands-on approach, combined with empirical data gathered from research and performance metrics, we’re better equipped to tailor our systems and our actions to meet the business needs of our customers and end users.
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